It’s easy to get tripped up in retirement. I’m reminded of the expression by the octogenarian to the recent newlywed fretting about life but rejecting out of hand the advice of his experienced senior:
A long time ago I was where you are now. And later you’ll be where I am now. But just as you haven’t been your age before, I’ve never been old before.
So for new retirees who “not been there or done that” it’s a whole new world filled with possibility and pitfalls.
Most retirees have an imperfect vision of retirement at best. And if it hasn’t been discussed or communicated, it could be vastly different from that of your spouse.
Finding meaning in a post-work world can be a real challenge. If your identity has been wrapped up in what you do, then you might now feel lost. Your social networks might change. Your activities might change.
It’s important to reassess your values and envision how you want to live in this next chapter of your life.
Initially, there may be more travel to visit family, friends or places. You may want to tackle that “bucket list.”
But to live a truly fulfilling and rewarding retirement may require you to take stock in yourself, your values and what gives you meaning. You may benefit from working with a professional transition coach or group that can help guide you through this period of rediscovery. One such resource can be found here at the Successful Transition Planning Institute.
Typically, most retirees may take the rule of thumb bandied about that you will need from 60% to 70% of your pre-retirement income to live on in a post-retirement world. This is because it is assumed that many expenses will drop off: business wardrobe, commuting to work, professional memberships, housing, new cars, etc.
The reality is far different. According to research conducted by the Fidelity Research Institute 2007 Retirement Index, more than two-thirds of retirees spent the same or higher in retirement. Only eight percent spend significantly lower and about 25% spend somewhat lower. The Employee Benefit Research Institute reported in its 2010 Retirement Confidence Survey that while 60% of workers expected to more than half of retirees didn’t see a drop in retirement expenditures while 26% of this group reported that their spending actually rose.
It all depends on your goals, lifestyle and what curve balls life throws at you. If you have adult children who end up in a financial crisis of their own caused by job loss, health issues or divorce, you may be spending more than you expected to help out. Maybe the home you live in will require higher outlays for maintenance or to upgrade the home so you can live there independently. In reality all of that travel and doing things on your bucket list will cost money, too. So it’s more the rule than the exception to expect spending to increase while you’re still healthy to get up and go.
Over time, the travel bug and other activities will probably decline but even after that these may be replaced by other expenses.
There is an old saying that as you get older you have more doctors than friends. This is a sad reality for many including my parents.
My father is on dialysis and has complications from diabetes. His treatments probably cost Medicare (and ultimately the US taxpayer) more than $30,000 each quarter as I figure it. He takes about 13 prescriptions each day and enters the dreaded “donut hole” about mid-year each year. At one time their former employers (a Fortune 500 company) provided medical insurance benefits to retirees but that became more and more cost prohibitive for their employer and for my parents as premiums, co-pays and deductibles rose. So now they rely on a combination of Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield and a state program called Prescription Advantage.
As private employers and cash-strapped state and municipal governments tackle the issue, you can expect to pay more for your health care in retirement.
It’s not uncommon to feel really rich when you look at your retirement account statements. (Sure, the balances are off where they may have been at the peak but it’s probably still a large pot of money). The big problem is that retirees may have no comprehension about how long that pot of money will last or how to turn it into a steady paycheck for retirement.
In reality the $500,000 in your 401k or IRA accounts may only provide $20,000 per year if you plan on withdrawing no more than 4% of the account’s balance each year. Then again if you take out more early on in retirement, you could be at risk of depleting your resources quickly.
Misplaced Risk Aversion & The Impact of Inflation
So as you get older, you’ll be tempted to follow the rule of thumb that more of your investments need to be in bonds. Although this may seem to be a conservative approach to investing, it is in fact risky.
Setting aside that this ignores the risks that bonds themselves carry, it is ignoring the simple fact that inflation eats away at your purchasing power. Even in a tame inflationary world with 1% annual inflation, a couple spending about $80,000 a year when they are 65 will need over $88,000 a year just to buy the same level of goods and services when they turn 75. Given the potential for higher inflation in the future that may result from a growing economy and/or current monetary policy, investments need to be positioned to hedge against inflation with a diverse allocation into stocks and not just bonds even when in retirement.
The other risk is trying to play catch up. As a retiree sees the balances on his accounts get drawn down, he might even be tempted to “shoot for the moon” by investing in illiquid investments like stocks in small, thinly traded markets or in sectors that are very speculative.
Ball games are one by base hits and consistency on the field and at the plate. Home runs are dramatic but not a sure thing.
Underestimating How Long You’ll Live
We all want a long and productive life. Many will even say that they don’t want to live to be a burden to their families. But here again the reality is that most folks do a bad job of guessing how long they’ll live. A report by the Society of Actuaries notes that 29% of retirees and pre-retirees estimate that they’ll outline the averages but in fact there is a 50% chance of outliving them.
So while they may have enough resources to carry them through the average life expectancy, they will not have enough when they live longer than the averages. And if a couple attains the age of 65, there is a better than 50% chance that at least one of them will live into their 90s.
Given the fact that most women become widows at the age of 53 (Journal of Financial Planning, Nov. 2010), this has a big impact on the availability of resources for retirement. Too often, a short-sighted approach to maximize current retirement income from a pension is to choose the option that pays the highest but stops when one spouse dies. All too often this puts the widow who may live longer without a reliable source of income to provide for her.
Too often people underestimate how long they will live in retirement, how much they will actually need for living in retirement and how to invest for a sustainable retirement paycheck using appropriate product, asset and tax diversification.
Many people do not save enough for their own retirement. The social safety net providing support for old age income and healthcare may not be enough to maintain a desired lifestyle. Women need to understand the risk of living long into retirement and manage resources accordingly. And because more than 40% of Americans are at risk of retiring earlier than expected because of job loss, family care needs or personal health, there is a real need for proper planning to address these issues.
While retirees will benefit from having a good plan and road map before the final paycheck ends, it’s never too late to start. And for the newly retired with the time to address these issues, now’s as good a time as any to speak to a qualified professional who can help.